Whether in theater or at a typical Army post that trains Soldiers to prepare for war, the use of munitions is nearly a daily factor of life, and one that rarely involves a mishap.
The primary reason for the safe co-existence of Soldiers and the explosive ordnance they depend on to protect their lives is the testing conducted at places like U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground.
“At a normal Army depot or training facility, you go out and train and it is almost rote,” said Chuck Butler, chief of the Ammo Management division. “All of the real safety hazards are worked out at the test centers. By the time the munitions leave here, we know they are good munitions that are safe for the Army to use.”
At YPG, munitions of all kinds are subjected to extreme conditions that are rare even in the most hostile combat environments. As part of routine testing, armaments are dropped from high towers, conditioned to extremely hot and cold temperatures, and subjected to vibration unlikely to be found on even the most punishing roads in theater. There are a lot of moving parts to make this rigorous testing of inherently dangerous weapons happen, from ammunition being prepared at a plant on the proving ground, stored in ammunition bunkers, and transported to a gun position. Likewise, there are plenty of places for things to go wrong in this supply chain that feeds hundreds of thousands of rounds for testing annually.
“The ammo program on YPG is very well regulated,” said Durred Francher, explosive safety manager. “It has to be: if we have an accident, someone is dead. Fortunately we have been good stewards of our program and prevented any major accidents.”
A recent example of YPG’s stellar handling of this inherently dangerous mission came from a recent inspection by the Department of Defense Explosive Safety Board (DDESB), which is conducted every three years.
“The gentlemen who were here said this was the first time they’ve had an ‘all green’ where we didn’t have any areas that had any major deficiencies,” said Francher. “There were observations: with an operation of our size, there is too much out there to not find something. But there was nothing that was going to get someone hurt.”
The DDESB inspectors were particularly impressed to see that ‘One team, one YPG’ is more than a slogan here.
“They commented on all of YPG’s ability to talk to one another,” said Francher. “They go to some installations where the mission and installation management sides have a love-hate relationship. Here, we work with each other.”
The proving ground has many sites maintained as fixed storage points for munitions, from small lockers for bullets to large ammunition bunkers. Additionally, YPG has potential locations that could serve as mobile sites for ammunition that also need to be inspected. In a normal year, Francher says, each of these sites is inspected at least twice, and usually four to five times. Some of these inspections are unannounced beforehand, Francher adds.
YPG’s responsibility for ammunition goes beyond the borders of the proving ground, too: for example,
“We’re not just protecting our workers, but anybody who could potentially drive by these trucks,” said Francher.
All of this has been accomplished with a workload that is still well above historical averages, Francher adds, and he is quick to point out that YPG’s sterling safety record is a team effort involving all employees.
“We have such a good record because we don’t take shortcuts or try and find ways to make it fit,” said Francher. “We get the job done, but we do it safely.”